This going to be my last post until after Christmas. If I haven't told you by now, I wish you all a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays. Stay safe!
I promised you all some more Christmas tradition origins and today I'm going to deliver. How many of you know that Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was created as a promotional gimmick by Montgomery Wards? In 1939, the Chicago-based company asked one of their copywriters Robert L. May to come up with a Christmas story that they could give away to their shoppers. May used the tale of The Ugly Duckling as well as his own past as inspiration for the character and Rudolph was born.
Many people believe that Halloween is the day to fear the dead but winter solstice was considered a vulnerable time as well. The fabric drawn between our world and the world of malicious spirits becoming rent, allowing the harmful ones to slip through to perhaps claim a victim or two. It became custom to hold a loud, cheery celebration at that time, in hope that the din would convince the lurking evil that there were just too many humans gathered in this one place to take on. Charms and rituals became part of the tradition surrounding this party as a further way of protecting loved ones from evil.
Evergreens are symbolic of enduring and renewed life, which is why decorate our homes with them at Christmastime. The fetching in of green branches is a magical rite to ensure the return of vegetation at winter's end. Our modern day Christmas tree is the centerpiece of this belief. Homes were not decorated with only Christmas trees, holly and mistletoe. Ivy, rosemary, bay, laurel and anything else green was also used.
By tradition, Christmas decorations should not be erected prior to Christmas Eve, lest this visible proof of anticipation of a festival anger capricious forces. Evergreens especially (and that includes your tree) should not be brought into the house before this time. Comfort should therefore be drawn from the knowledge that greedy merchants who put up their Christmas finery in early November daily court the malicious attentions of evil spirits.
Ivy, oddly enough, is usually considered a bad luck magnet when brought into a home. (Growing on the sides of a house is just fine though; it's then considered protective.) According to superstition, ivy should never be brought as a gift to anyone ill, and of course all ivy must be removed from the home of anyone under the weather. During the holiday season, however, holly and ivy are "reunited" under one roof as male and female are symbolically brought together again. Perhaps holly's power counteracts ivy's influence.
Those born on this auspicious day will never encounter a ghost, nor will they have anything to fear from spirits. They're also protected against from death by drowning or hanging.
The custom of sending Christmas cards probably began with the English "schoolpieces" or "Christmas pieces", simple pen-and-ink designs on sheets of writing paper. The first formal card was designed by an Englishman, J.C. Horsley, in 1843. It was lithographed on stiff, dark cardboard and depicted in color a party of grownups and children with glasses of wine raised in a toast over the words "A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you." It caught on because in England you could mail a greeting for a penny each. Now nearly 2 Billion are sent every year.
The abbreviation "Xmas" for "Christmas" usage is nearly as old as Christianity. Its origins lie in the fact that the first letter in the Greek word for 'Christ' is 'chi,' and the Greek letter 'chi' is represented by a symbol similar to the letter 'X' in the modern Roman alphabet. Hence 'Xmas' is indeed perfectly legitimate abbreviation for the word 'Christmas'.
To read more on Christmas Legends, visit: Snopes. You can also try your luck with their Christmas Legends Quiz. Since I won't be posting for a few days, let me remind you to head over to Scooter McGavin's 9th Green and wish him a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.